April ’15

The Band Room

Volume 115, No. 4April, 2015

Bill Crow

Karl Kraber sent me an excerpt from Nicolas Slonimsky’s book “Perfect Pitch,” which listed some of the remarkable expressions of conductor Eugene Ormandy. Back in 1987 in this column, I printed a collection of Ormandy-isms that had been sent to me by a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. This seems like a good time to reprint them.


“Congratulations to each and every one of you for the concert last night in New York, and vice-versa.”

“Who is sitting in that empty chair?”

“I’m conducting slowly because I don’t know the tempo.”

“I conduct faster so you can see my beat.”

“I cannot give it to you, so try to watch me.”

“I was trying to help you, so I was beating wrong.”

“I am thinking it right, but beating it wrong.”

“I can conduct better than I count.”

“I guess you thought I was conducting, but I wasn’t.”

“I purposely didn’t do anything, and you were all behind.”

“Why do you always insist on playing while I’m trying to conduct?”

“Even when you are not playing, you are holding me back.”

“Don’t ever follow me, because I am difficult.”

“It is not as difficult as I thought it was, but it is harder than it is.”

“The notes are right, but if I listened, they would be wrong.”

“I wrote it the right way, so it was copied the wrong way right. I mean, the right way wrong.”

“At every concert I’ve sensed a certain insecurity about the tempo. It’s clearly marked 80… uh, 69.”

“It is not together, but the ensemble is perfect.”

“Watch me closely. Only one can spoil it.”

“Someone came too sooner.”

“Start beforty-two.”

“Start three bars before something.”

“Start at B. No. Yes. No. Yes. No.”

“Did you play? It sounded very good.”

“Intonation is important. Especially when it is cold.”

“Beauty is less important than quality.”

“If you don’t have it in your part, leave it out, because there is enough missing already.”

“Percussion a little louder.” (We don’t have anything.) “That’s right. Play it louder.”

“More basses, because you are so far away.”

“I need one more bass less.”

“There are no woodwinds at number six.” (We are at number fifteen.) “I know. That is why.”

(To the tubist) “Long note? Yes. Make it seem short.”

“Brass, stay down all summer.”

“Don’t play louder, just give more.”

“Accelerando means in tempo. Don’t rush.”

“I don’t want to repeat this a hundred times. When you see crescendo, it means p.”

“The tempo remains pp.”

“It’s difficult to remember when you haven’t played it before.”

“We can’t hear the balance yet, because the soloist is still on the airplane.”

“Please follow me, because I have to follow him, and he isn’t here.”

“With us tonight is William Warfield, who is with us tonight.”

“…he is a wonderful man, and so is his wife.”

“Bizet was a very young man when he composed this symphony, so play it soft.”

“Mahler wrote it as the third movement of his Fourth Symphony, I mean, the fourth movement of his First Symphony. We play it third. The trumpet solo will be played by our solo trumpet player. It’s named ‘Blumine,’ which has something to do with flowers.”

“That’s the way Stravinsky was… bup, bup, bup. The poor guy’s dead now. Play it legato.”

“Serkin was so sick, he almost died for three days.”

(On David Oistrach’s death) “I told him he’d have a heart attack a year ago. But unfortunately, he lived a year longer.”

(On Willy Knappel’s death) “Death is a terrible thing. I don’t believe in it myself.”

“This is a very democratic organization. So let’s take a vote. All those who disagree with me, raise their hands.”

“It’s all very well to have principles. But when it comes to money, you have to be flexible.”

“Thank you for your cooperation, and vice-versa.”

“I mean what I meant.”

“I never say what I mean, but I always manage to say something similar.”

“Let me explain what I do here. I don’t want to confuse you any more than absolutely necessary.”

“I don’t mean to make you nervous, but unfortunately, I have to.”

“Relax. Don’t be nervous. My god, it’s the Philadelphia Orchestra!”